Never before did I think I'd come back to this place. For months I wouldn't go anywhere near here. With Kreg with us I'm trying very hard not to show how frightened I am.
Breathe, I tell myself.
Shattered glass was everywhere from when the shockwave from the bombs blew them out. Everywhere I look are the shadows of people bringing in injured children and comrade and shouting orders.
"Stay with me," a rebel says to his friend.
A little ways away two rebels examine a charred body, "This one won't make it. Move on to the next."
"Don't leave me," says a child clinging to my wrist.
My eyes dart to the other children around that have yet to be seen to and yet I stay. He's so small… so small and helpless. It's not long before his grip lessens and his eyes close.
There are so many here.
I swear I can still smell the blood and burnt flesh.
"What is this place?" Kreg asks. It's the first question he's asked since we hit the surface.
I swallow hard. It's taking everything I have not to throw up. "The place where the three of us spent the last few days of the war. And where many of the victims from the bombing were treated."
"You spent it here?" Kreg says looking around. For a moment he looks puzzled but then something switches on in his brain and I've got a feeling he's heard the stories. Everyone knows that Thora and I were captured the day everyone thought the Star Squad had been killed and then found here by my Da and Uncle Boron a few days later. What happened in between is a subject up for debate.
Before we get to the Master Bedroom I make a decision. I warn Aurelia and Gaius and we debate for a moment. I'm not sure how much respect Kreg has for me, but I know that if he's left to figure out the facts for himself, lies could easily sneak in there. Earlier tonight we both let our guards down around the other. I don't want to ruin that.
He doesn't come into the room, Aurelia signs. With that she turns and leaves. I guess that was permission.
Gaius gives me a look asking me if I'm sure and then goes down the hallway to double check if we were followed leaving me alone with Kreg. Looking him in the eyes I say, "I will tell you more, but only if you swear not to communicate in any way to anyone what I tell you. That includes your family."
He looks at me uncertain on whether or not to trust me but then says, "All right. You have my word."
I believe him. "You're going to get the basics, but it's a whole lot more than what everyone else knows. From the moment the Capitol took Thora and me from our squad, I was unconscious. One moment I'm fighting for my life and the next I'm waking up in one of the beds upstairs. The owner of the house was not unknown to my family or anyone in my district for that matter. I take it you know who Marcus Panthra is?"
His face pales just a little bit. Yes, he's heard of him.
"Well get this, he's one of three people that established the rebellion in the Capitol."
"No way," he scoffs. "I don't know what he did in your district, but in mine… there's no way in Hades that he cared about the districts."
"I never imagined it either. My grandmother spoke of a person in her journals about a man named Rook. Someone who was high up in the Capitol, close to both Galba and Snow, and was a very good actor. Pathra didn't touch me, not because he didn't have the opportunity, but because I was the granddaughter of one of his dearest friends. I would've died in the Capitol prisons if it wasn't for him."
Kreg considers this for a moment, "But your family never spoke for him. He's on death row."
"But we haven't killed him yet. Do the math, Kreg. Everyone knows that he was given my grandmother at least one night every visit to the Capitol since she was twenty-eight. When my district had a riot during one of the victory tours, he was the one to investigate and punish my district. He ordered my great-grandfather to be executed since he claimed responsibility in place of his daughter."
Nana never told grandmother about this. Grandmother just assumed that Nana's father had died from starvation like the rest of the elderly population. As the mayor, Nana had been so busy preparing for the tour that her father stepped in to help with the day to day things and the Capitol Officials knew. It was because of this he had a prayer to claim responsibility. Otherwise standard procedure would've been to execute Nana instead and possibly my mother and her siblings. How her children escaped the arena I will never know, but I think I can credit Rook.
"I'm not going into what else he did," I say. "My family has all the political sway it needs to have him killed shortly after Snow, and yet he's still alive, slightly comfortable somewhere in the Mansion. Why?"
It doesn't take him long to come up with the right conclusion, "You're using him."
"He knew that there would be those from the Capitol bent on bringing back the old government. Since they don't know his allegiances were never with Snow, they might just come to his rescue. And if that happens, well, we have a high-ranking spy on the inside. Pathra said he'd enjoy being a pawn this round."
That distrustful look remains in his eyes and grows darker, "So am I a piece in this game too?"
"I seem to remember telling you to go back to the Manor," I say.
"All right, fine," Kreg grumbles. "So what was the meeting all about?"
"Discussing the assassination attempt. We call the Capitolist group the Jabberjays, and they're doing a very good job of keeping the focus on Thirteen. While there are some assassins from there, they aren't the group I'm worried about. They're not the one that will destroy my family and the families of the other district leaders if they win."
"Including mine," Kreg says. He shifts from one leg to the other. "Do you think Aurelius is part of the conspiracies?"
"No," I say deadpan. "I'm certain his affection for the President is legitimate. Whoever it was that attacked Paylor today may not have succeeded in killing her, but they were able to get Aurelius out of the way by having him arrested."
"Then I want in," he says. "He's my friend."
Gaius chooses this moment to come back signaling the all clear. I sign to him what Kreg just told me.
And if you're wrong? He signs.
Unless his mother is in on the plot then he's got as much at stake as I do, I sign back.
Gaius looks straight at Kreg and starts signing and I translate. "The Jabberjays are not a group to be taken lightly. They are made up of everyone that managed to wiggle out of execution from the old government and many of their adult children. You cannot let yourself be captured."
"What do you mean?" Kreg asks.
There's only one way to explain. Reaching into my hair I pull out a single purple pill. "This was given to every soldier that fought in the Capitol. We were all supposed to take it so they couldn't take us alive. I couldn't get to mine then, but I won't let the Jabberjays hold me for long."
His eyes go as wide as saucers.
"Do you understand?"
Kreg looks around thinking hard.
"You can still walk away," I say and I'm hoping he does.
"You're not," he says. "I still want in."
I nod slowly. "Aurelia doesn't trust you yet so you'll have to stay our here with Gaius and she outranks me."
"Fine," grumbles Kreg.
Get going, signs Gaius pointing to Pathra's bedchambers.
There seems to be some sort of finality when I close the doors to Pathra's bedroom behind me. More flashes of memory attack as I look around. Aurelia was right, I wouldn't like this.
What we came here for rests in a room hidden behind a closet. Pressing my hand against a panel the machine scans my fingerprints before the door slides open. Several widows are open on the computer screen. I've forgotten how fast she can work.
What kept you, Aurelia asks.
"I waited for Gaius to come back so he could watch Kreg. He's in," I say while looking at her progress. Right now there's a video up and we watch as President Paylor and Dr. Aurelius have some kind of argument in the library that eventually turns affectionate. Aurelia snorts when I look away. But it's not out of propriety that I turned away. I am moving on, but I can't help but miss Raiden.
My attention goes back to the screen when Aurelia snaps her fingers.
Isn't that Kreg's mother? Aurelia writes out.
Looking harder at the screen I realize she's right. Lilyah Grisson walks into the library keeping her eyes on the doctor despite knowing she should be facing Paylor directly. "Good thing Kreg isn't in here. Look at her… she's so convinced that she's right that she won't hear alternatives."
The words tunnel vision appear on the screen.
Despite knowing what to expect in this video I jump when the gun goes off hitting the doctor in the shoulder. We replay the part right before he got shot over and over. Lilyah reacted when Aurelius reached into his jacket. For what? His knives? That… makes no sense.
"Are there any arrest records for our friends?"
Aurelia pulls them up. I breathe a little easier that they were all taken alive and not killed. They were taken to prison and wait questioning in connection with the assassination attempt.
Taking a seat I activate the split screen allowing us to work on two different things. Aurelia continues to figure out how the cameras were disabled and I go to find everything on the attack.
"We've got a problem." Aurelia stops what she's doing and looks over to my screen. There's an alert sent out to all the soldiers to be on the lookout for Aurelia Panthra. Digging a little deeper (meaning doing a whole bunch of things I know I shouldn't) I find that an informant has come forward swearing that the Avox girl around Vixen Welkin is none other than Marcus Panthra's granddaughter.
"How do you want to play this?"